U.S. can beat Portugal, but it must contain Cristiano Ronaldo
BY CLINT MATHIS For Sun-Times Media June 21, 2014 6:41PM
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo works out Sunday morning at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil. The U.S. plays Portugal at 5 p.m. in group G of the 2014 soccer World Cup. | AP Photo/Julio Cortez
Updated: July 23, 2014 6:31AM
The U.S. men’s national team took a great opening step with its 2-1 victory Monday against Ghana, but things will start to get tougher with its second match Sunday against Portugal, which suffered a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Germany.
For the United States, the biggest question centers on how it will replace main target forward Jozy Altidore. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t have a player on his bench in the same mold as Altidore, whose strengths lie in his ability to get past players and hold the ball up against big defenders.
While Aron Johannsson came on for Altidore against Ghana, a more likely replacement against Portugal might be the more experienced Chris Wondolowski, who has scored a bit more at the international level.
You can play both sides of whether Portugal’s 4-0 defeat to Germany is good or bad for the United States going into the match. In my opinion, it might play as an advantage. Portugal has to come out and win; otherwise, its World Cup is basically over.
I expect a lot early on in the attack from Portugal, which means the United States needs to manage the game and pick out the right moments for counterattacks.
At the same time, you can’t sit back, get pounded on all game and hope for a tie. With Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones in the middle, there’s a great work ethic. They like to pass the ball around, and the United States can do well to control the game with that trio.
Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t been at full health, but he still will be a handful. If he’s healthy enough to play and run at full power, he’ll be difficult to deal with. The U.S. midfield and back line will need to stay focused on him at all times.
As it did in 2002, the United States is certainly capable of winning against Portugal. But taking a draw and four points into the match against Germany still would be a great result, with Portugal still having to deal with a negative goal differential.
If the United States can score early, like it did against Ghana, a point at the very least should be expected.
Clint Mathis is an assistant coach for the Fire. He was on the U.S. national team from 1998 to 2005.